Inclusive language

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A cardboard sign calling for inclusive language at a feminist protest in Madrid, 2013, with basic usage instructions

Inclusive language is a language style that seeks to avoid expressions that its proponents perceive as expressing or implying ideas that are sexist, racist, or otherwise biased, prejudiced, or insulting to particular group(s) of people; and instead uses language intended by its proponents to avoid offense and fulfill the ideals of egalitarianism, social inclusion and equity.

Its supporters argue that language is often used to perpetuate and spread prejudice and that creating intention around using inclusive language can help create more productive, safe, and profitable organizations and societies.[1] The term "political correctness" is sometimes used to refer to this practice, either as a neutral description by supporters, by commentators in general, or with negative connotations by its opponents.[2] Use of gender-neutral terminology has been controversial in languages where "all grammar is gendered", such as Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, and German; some areas have banned its use.[3]

Inclusive language is usually adopted by following a language guide that lists words and expression not to use and substitutes for them. Language guides are used by many organizations, especially non-profits (at least in the United States).[4]



In French, a reference to a mixed-gender group of friends would traditionally be written as "amis", but a gender-neutral variation changed its spelling to "ami·e·s." However, in May 2021, the Minister for Education wrote to schools across the country to say that "so-called 'inclusive' writing should be avoided, which notably uses the midpoint to simultaneously reveal the feminine and masculine forms of a word used in the masculine when it is used in a generic sense."[5][6]


As of June 2022, the city government of Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina, banned teachers "from using any gender-neutral words during class and in communications with parents", on the grounds that it "violated the rules of Spanish and stymied students' reading comprehension". At least five organizations, "a mix of gay rights and civil rights groups", have filed lawsuits seeking to overturn" the ruling.[3] The governor of Buenos Aires province, Axel Kicillof, rejected the authority of the Royal Spanish Academy, citing the Argentine War of Independence as a reason.[7] Darío Villanueva Prieto, from the RAE, clarified that the RAE does not use the slang of Spanish language from the Iberian peninsula, but that it receives input from all countries in the world where the language is spoken.[8]


In December 2021, Uruguay's public education agency issued a memo to limit use of inclusive language.[9]

United States[edit]

Organizations in the U.S. with equity language guides include The Sierra Club, American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, American Medical Association, National Recreation and Park Association, Columbia University School of Professional Studies, University of Washington.[4] According to George Packer, most of these guides are based on other guides such as A Progressive's Style Guide, the Racial Equity Tools glossary, and others.[10]

Several tech companies promotes or provide inclusive language guides: Google,[11][12] Apple,[13] Microsoft,[14] IBM,[15] Cisco Talos,[16] SAP.[17]



Inclusive language in English, at least in the United States, goes well beyond gender inclusivity, the following with varying levels or usage.

Rationale for suggested language change Language or expression to be avoided, according to proponents Replacement language proposed by proponents
To avoid implied sexism or heteronormativity with Gender-neutral language
  • Steward/stewardess
  • Board of aldermen
  • Use of you guys to refer to a group that includes women[2]
  • Manhole
  • Manpower
  • Manned
  • Assuming "he" or "she" based on occupation or spouse's gender
  • Flight attendant
  • City council
  • Gender-neutral marked plural, such as you all
  • Maintenance hole, utility hole, access point, service chamber
  • Staffing
  • Crewed, staffed
  • Singular "they", or "he or she"
To avoid sexism in any implication that women should follow "traditional" gender roles, are in any way unequal to men, are valued primarily as wives or sex objects, or that the unpaid work of women is less important than paid work
  • Girl (for an adult)
  • Miss or Mrs.
  • Housewife
  • Young woman
  • Ms. or dropping honorifics entirely
  • homemaker
To avoid terminology that is disempowering, has negative connotations, or is subject to a euphemism treadmill with regard to
  • Race
  • Caste
  • Disability
  • Immigration status
  • Housing status
  • Health status
Avoid negative stereotypes of ethnic groups
  • To bargain down
  • To renege
  • To cheat or rip off
  • A police van
Avoiding racism, colonialism, and religious intolerance, whether overtly or by historical association
Avoid sizeism and body shaming "fat", "large", possibly "plus-sized model" or "plus-size clothing" in women's fashion "curvy" or simply talk about "women of all sizes"
Avoid insulting human dignity by emphasizing the humanity of individuals rather than group label
  • "He is a gay"
  • "The demented"
  • "He is a gay person"
  • "People with dementia"[21]
To avoiding implied racism or colonialism by using indigenous names instead of names used by colonizers Indian, Bombay, primitive cultures Native American (see Native American name controversy), Mumbai (see Renaming of cities in India, Geographical renaming, and British Isles naming dispute), early cultures
Avoid offending non-Christians and non-believers (see War on Christmas)
  • Wishing strangers (whose religion is unknown) "Merry Christmas"
  • School break called "Christmas Vacation"
  • Numbering years with BC/AD meaning "before Christ" and "the year of the Lord" (anno Domini)
  • "Happy Holidays" or "Seasons Greetings"
  • Schools scheduling "Winter Vacation"
  • Numbering years with BCE/CE meaning "before common era" and "common era"
To avoid implied transphobia and binary genderism Using "he" or "she" based on appearance or name Asking people what pronouns they prefer to be addressed by, or introduce oneself with one's own gender pronouns (e.g. "My name is Chris and my pronouns are he/him/his.")
Taking a sex-positive position and avoiding slut-shaming Prostitute Sex worker
Avoid associations with slavery Master/slave (technology) Primary/secondary, leader/follower
Avoid association between ownership of animals and ownership of people (slavery)[22] and in general anthropocentrism Pet owner Pet guardian,[22] pet parent[23]
Avoid stigma promoting discrimination against people with HIV/AIDS Clean HIV negative
Avoiding stigma with autism, and seeing various neurological conditions not as diseases to be cured, but differences to be embraced
  • Terms referring to people with autism
  • "healthy" or "normal"
Comments about personal appearance might be interpreted as lookism or sexual harassment, depending on the context.


Inclusion and divisiveness[edit]

Political correctness and inclusive language both focus on attempting to use neutral terms and expressions to influence psychological and social forces[25] to combat prejudices, stereotypes, etc. However, what may be, and in many cases already has, happened is that while some markets and audiences embrace the new language, others react against it (an example being the alleged "War on Christmas"). Whether businesses and organizations embrace or reject the language, they risk alienating the opposing side.[25][26] Thus inclusive language has become part of "culture wars".[27]

Other concerns[edit]

Journalist George Packer makes a number of criticisms of inclusive language as used in the U.S.

Replacing vivid language with jargon, while failing to deliver on its goal of creating empathy
Packer compares a passage from Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo with the same text rewritten in inclusive language, and asks if equity language does "what it claims to do" -- i.e. create more empathy for Sita and her struggles than Boo does in her language use.
Original Inclusive language
The One Leg's given name was Sita. She had fair skin, usually an asset, but the runt leg had smacked down her bride price. Her Hindu parents had taken the single offer they got: poor, unattractive, hard-working, Muslim, old—"half-dead, but who else wanted her", as her mother had once said with a frown.[4][28] Sita was a person living with a disability. Because she lived in a system that centered whiteness while producing inequities among racial and ethnic groups, her physical appearance conferred an unearned set of privileges and benefits, but her disability lowered her status to potential partners. Her parents, who were Hindu persons, accepted a marriage proposal from a member of a community with limited financial resources, a person whose physical appearance was defined as being different from the traits of the dominant group and resulted in his being set apart for unequal treatment, a person who was considered in the dominant discourse to be "hardworking", a Muslim person, an older person. In referring to him, Sita's mother used language that is considered harmful by representatives of historically marginalized communities.[4]

Packer notes that Boo's book was written in 2012 before the new language guidelines emerged, and worries what the new rules will and are doing to good writing. "Shelf upon shelf of great writing might go the way of 'blind' and 'urban'" (both forbidden in language guideline). "Open Light in August or Invisible Man to any page and see how little would survive."[4]

Banning not only offensive language, but more and more harmless words and expressions.
Using the Sierra Club equity guidelines, Packer notes that it is not just terms like "welfare queen", or expressions like "Jew them down" that are banished, but a very large number of descriptive terms: "urban", "vibrant", "hardworking", "brown bag" (subtly racist) "the poor" (classist), "battle" and "minefield" (disrespectful of veterans), "field" or "fieldwork" (could be associated with slavery), "migrant" (no reason given). Others include "prisoner" (replaced by "a person experiencing the criminal-justice system"), "gentrification", "legal resident", "food stamps", "gun control", "congresswoman", and "expat".[4]
Replacing "felon" with "justice-involved person" (the San Francisco Board of Supervisors); "fieldwork" with "practicum" (the Southern California's School of Social Work). Imprecise, unclear language has the advantage of being "less likely to offend", whereas "vivid imagery, strong statements" -- what makes up good writing -- "convey painful truths".[4]
The language guides defend their edicts of inclusive language by arguing language is always changing, "evolving". But inclusive language has not "emerged organically from the shifting linguistic habits of large numbers of people" or even public debate. Its changes "are handed down in communiqués written by obscure 'experts' who purport to speak for vaguely defined 'communities'".

And not only do the changes come without any transparent discussion, they come "with a suddenness and frequency that keep the novitiate off-balance".

People of color becomes standard usage until the day it is demoted, by the American Heart Association and others, for being too general. The American Cancer Society prefers marginalized to the more "victimizing" underresourced or underserved—but in the National Recreation and Park Association's guide, marginalized now acquires "negative connotations when used in a broad way. However, it may be necessary and appropriate in context. If you do use it, avoid 'the marginalized' and don't use marginalized as an adjective." Historically marginalized is sometimes okay; marginalized people is not.[4]

It's a distinctly American project, and serves as a substitute for actual "material forms of progress" to help those it purports to help.
By toning down (or attempting to tone down) harsh language, inclusive language may make it easier to avoid facing "squarely the wrongs they want to right, which is the starting point for any change".[4]

Increasingly it is being advocated that the language of female reproduction should be desexed, and terms such as "women" and "mothers" avoided in order to be more accommodating of people who identify as transgender. However, it has been identified that avoidance of sexed terms when the sex of the person is relevant risk dehumanisation of women, introduces inaccuracies, and reduces inclusivity by making communications more difficult to understand.[29]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Inclusive Language Guide: Definition & Examples". Rider University. Archived from the original on 23 November 2020. Retrieved 6 January 2021.
  2. ^ a b Boyd, Krys (17 February 2015). "The Limits Of Political Correctness (panel discussion)". Think (Podcast). KERA (FM). Retrieved 30 May 2022.
  3. ^ a b Lankes, Ana (20 July 2022). "In Argentina, One of the World's First Bans on Gender-Neutral Language". The New York Times. Retrieved 25 April 2023.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i Packer, George (2 March 2023). "The Moral Case Against Equity Language". The Atlantic. Retrieved 25 April 2023.
  5. ^ Blanquer, Jean-Michel. "Règles de féminisation dans les actes administratifs du ministère de l'Éducation nationale, de la Jeunesse et des Sports et les pratiques d'enseignement" [5 May 202] (in French). Ministère de l'Education Nationale et de la Jeunesse. En premier lieu, il convient de proscrire le recours à l'écriture dite « inclusive », qui utilise notamment le point médian pour faire apparaître simultanément les formes féminines et masculines d'un mot employé au masculin lorsque celui-ci est utilisé dans un sens générique.
  6. ^ Impelli, Matthew (10 May 2021). "France Bans Gender-Neutral Language in Schools, Citing 'Harm' to Learning". Newsweek. Retrieved 25 April 2023.
  7. ^ "En un acto escolar, Axel Kicillof llamó a los chicos a rebelarse: "Desde España no nos van a explicar las palabras que usamos"" [In a school event Axel Kicillof called kids to rebellion: "Spain will not explain us the words we use"] (in Spanish). La Nación. 22 June 2022. Retrieved 4 July 2023.
  8. ^ "La RAE le respondió a Axel Kicillof tras sus dichos sobre el lenguaje inclusivo en un acto escolar" [The RAE answered to Axel Kicillof after his sayings in a school event] (in Spanish). La Nación. 23 June 2023. Retrieved 4 July 2023.
  9. ^ Lankes 2022, citing "Referente: Criterios sobre el uso del lenguaje inclusivo en la Administración Nacional de Educación Pública" (PDF). Administración Nacional de Educación Pública. 8 December 2021. Circular No. 4/2022. Archived from the original (PDF) on 20 July 2022.
  10. ^ Packer 2023, citing Thomas, Hanna; Hirsch, Anna. "A Progressive's Style Guide" (PDF). and and "Racial Equity Tools Glossary". Racial Equity Tools.
  11. ^ a b c "Write inclusive documentation - Google developer documentation style guide". Google for Developers. Retrieved 13 July 2023.
  12. ^ a b "Word list - Google developer documentation style guide". Google for Developers. Retrieved 13 July 2023.
  13. ^ a b c "Apple Style Guide" (PDF). Apple. October 2022. Archived from the original (PDF) on 4 June 2023. Retrieved 13 July 2023.
  14. ^ pallep (24 June 2022). "blacklist - Microsoft Style Guide". Retrieved 13 July 2023.
  15. ^ a b "Words Matter: Driving Thoughtful Change Toward Inclusive Language in Technology". THINK Blog. 19 August 2020. Retrieved 13 July 2023.
  16. ^ "Cisco Talos replacing all mentions of 'blacklist,' 'whitelist'". Cisco Talos Blog. 23 June 2020. Retrieved 13 July 2023.
  17. ^ "Inclusive Language at SAP". SAP Help Portal. Retrieved 13 July 2023.
  18. ^ a b "Seattle officials call for ban on 'potentially offensive' language". Fox News. 25 March 2015. Retrieved 31 May 2022.
  19. ^ "Terminology: it's not black and white". Retrieved 14 July 2023.
  20. ^ Houghton, Frank; Houghton, Sharon (4 October 2018). ""Blacklists" and "whitelists": a salutary warning concerning the prevalence of racist language in discussions of predatory publishing". Journal of the Medical Library Association. 106 (4): 527–530. doi:10.5195/jmla.2018.490. ISSN 1558-9439. PMC 6148600. PMID 30271301.
  21. ^ Lee, Chelsea (16 November 2015). "The Use of Singular "They" in APA Style". APA Style 6th Edition Blog. American Psychological Association. Retrieved 30 May 2022.
  22. ^ a b Opinion - Dog "Owner" vs "Guardian" - Words Matter

    The use of the word "guardian" started in the San Francisco Bay area with an organization called In Defense of Animals (IDA). The IDA was founded in 1999 by Dr. Elliot Katz, who equated animal ownership with human slavery, declaring that we don't "own" our pets, we simply have "guardianship" of them. Dr. Katz and his compatriots in the movement claim that the word "ownership" implies a slave/slave-master relationship. He opines that slave-masters were, by definition, cruel, so calling oneself an "owner" presumes cruelty.

  23. ^ Kurlander, Steven (24 March 2015). "A Pet Peeve Against 'Pet Parenting' -- Time to Push Back Against Equating Animals With Children". HuffPost. Retrieved 31 May 2022.
  24. ^ "Allistic". Cambridge Dictionary. Cambridge University Press.
  25. ^ a b Schwartz, Howard S. (2010). Society against itself : political correctness and organizational self-destruction. London: Karnac Books. ISBN 978-1-84940-782-3. OCLC 743101733.
  26. ^ Sczesny, Sabine; Moser, Franziska; Wood, Wendy (2015). "Beyond Sexist Beliefs: How Do People Decide to Use Gender-Inclusive Language?". Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. 41 (7): 943–954. doi:10.1177/0146167215585727. ISSN 0146-1672. PMID 26015331. S2CID 7492192.
  27. ^ Lea, John (26 May 2010). Political Correctness and Higher Education: British and American Perspectives (0 ed.). Routledge. doi:10.4324/9780203888629. ISBN 978-0-203-88862-9.
  28. ^ Boo, Katherine (2012). Behind the Beautiful Forevers. Random House Publishing Group. p. xvi. ISBN 978-0-679-64395-1. Retrieved 25 April 2023.
  29. ^ Gribble, K; et al. (2023). "Effective communication about pregnancy, birth, lactation, breastfeeding and newborn care: the importance of sexed language". Frontiers in Global Women's Health. 3. doi:10.3389/fgwh.2022.818856. PMC 8864964. PMID 35224545.

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